Last week with about 1,800 other people, I attended a technical conference in Chicago on the programming framework called Ruby On Rails (RailsConf2014). The event included 81 different talks from active members of the Ruby On Rails community, each one had something to share and wanted to help others in the community.
Unlike rigid corporate driven technology communities, the influencers / creators of the technology do not follow a corporate statement and need not have a “message” that is “on strategy”. This was evident as the core rails team (the group of people who develop the technology and manage contribution from the community) had polarizing opinions on various topics. These views were made public and discussed in different talks. Can you imagine that happening at a Microsoft or Apple conference? From many years of experience I can share that such closed technology events have talks that are 'on message' and disagreements are kept strictly behind the scenes.
As key influencers of the community openly discuss their opposed views it encourages debate throughout the community. A community that has the ability to explore alternative views in an easy manner with the goal of progression and helping more people at its heart felt very powerful.
These opinions were not hampered with the politics found in the work place, as none of those taking part are looking to ‘score points’ to achieve promotion. I am not suggesting the community is ego free, but the willingness to listen and consider different perspectives is highly active.
As I enjoyed improving my skills in the Ruby on Rails technology stack, I found myself feeling overwhelmed that such an advanced and valuable asset has been built by people all over the world, remotely communicating and sharing without profit being the motivator. There is a common belief throughout the community which along with the specific technology flavor brings everyone together. However the ‘Rails Way’ is loose enough not to prevent creativity and innovation.
Compared to traditional corporate controlled technology development, Ruby on Rails (and I expect other open source projects) feels efficiently developed and rapidly finds the path of least resistance to achieve its goals.
The traditional company could learn and borrow from communities like this to better use the genius in the organization. Too often only the opinions of those who have climbed a politically fueled ladder to senior management have voices that are heard. Too frequently the honest views are kept silent, because failure is seen as a weakness and blame will be credited with negative career consequences. How often was that silent view the missing key that could have saved looming disaster or complete waste of resources?
The total intelligence of an organization is huge, there will be amazing insights that could change the companies fortunes throughout the business at every level. Unfortunately the label of hierarchy job titles regularly creates a culture where the true aggregate genius of the company is lost.
An open culture should be embraced by organizations and the power of the community tapped to improve all aspects of a companies execution from product development, customer service, commercial strategy through to employee treatment and support.
In a global commerce filled with knowledge workers the draconian approach to company structure is not only outdated, it is inefficient. I ask everyone to look deep into their culture to consider if it really works for them or works against them. You think you are open - can employees ask “why”, can they say “maybe this would be better”, dare they go talk to or email the CEO, what happens if there is failure?